Major airlines refused to individually respond to lawmakers’ inquiry and offered no commitments to return travelers’ money or protect the value of expiring flight credits
Washington (June 1, 2021) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today criticized seven of the major U.S. domestic airlines for their collective response to a recent letter the lawmakers sent to every major airline, urging each to make all pandemic-related flight credits valid indefinitely by default. Senators Markey and Blumenthal sent this letter because many airlines have denied travelers the cash refunds they deserve for tickets canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, and are instead issuing temporary flight credits that are now beginning to expire despite the ongoing health emergency.
Instead of responding individually to the questions raised about each airline’s consumer refund and flight credit policies, seven companies – Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines – chose to have their trade association respond for them. In this general response, the airline trade association then declined to provide any detailed answers to the lawmakers’ specific inquiries, as well as refused to offer any commitment to expand cash refund policies or eliminate expiration dates for pandemic-related flight credits.
“No matter what they said last week, America’s largest airlines still owe a lot of answers to their customers,” said Senators Markey and Blumenthal. “Seven airlines accounting for more than 70 percent of the domestic market have refused to individually respond to our questions. Their decision to hide behind their trade association is unacceptable, and their collective response is unconscionable. The uptick in travel during Memorial Day weekend clearly shows that the airline industry is in recovery mode, yet these companies continue to sit on more than $10 billion in unused flight credits and are still refusing to return consumers’ hard-earned money, more than a year after the pandemic began. We consider the airlines’ inadequate response to be a rejection of their moral responsibility to do right by the flying public, and we will pursue all options – regulatory and legislative – to fix this situation. There can be no expiration date on consumer protection.”
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Senators Markey and Blumenthal have led their colleagues in demanding airlines offer cash refunds instead of temporary flight credits. They also led the introduction of legislation in the last Congress that would have required the return of travelers’ money. Their most recent efforts follow this prior work after reports have revealed that travelers are currently struggling to navigate each airline’s complex policies, which may cause countless consumers to be unable to redeem their flight credits or redeem them at a loss. Even as the lawmakers continue to push for cash refunds, it is imperative that, at a minimum, the airlines do not subject pandemic-related flight credits to an expiration date.
A copy of the lawmakers’ most recent letter to airline industry can be found HERE. The response from Airlines for America – a trade association representing most of the domestic airline market – can be found HERE.
"This response to Senators Markey and Blumenthal from an industry lobbying group is unacceptable," said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. "It's bad enough that airlines are withholding billions of dollars in flight refunds from cash-strapped consumers restricted from or unwilling to fly during Coronavirus. But slapping expiration dates on flight vouchers is particularly egregious. Airlines must do right by consumers and provide much-needed cash refunds, and we support the Senators' call for legislative or regulatory action to get it done."